FPRA 2010 Annual Conference: Student Track, Breakout Session A – Panel Discussion on the Differences between Agency, Corporate and Nonprofit Public Relations

Tiffany Esposito – Communications Manager, Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce –  cheerleader, recruiter, campaign manager, sales manager, graphic artist, event planner, volunteer coordinator

She is responsible for the writing and distribution of press releases, weekly e-briefs, event promotions and planning as well as branding and marketing. It’s a non-profit organization that isn’t funded by the state or government. She has the opportunity to wear a lot of hats within the organization and has recently begun working in sales as the industry demands more of all PR professionals. Esposito is also new to the work force.  
Teri Hansen, APR – President and Creative Director of Priority MarketingGuardian, team builder, mentor, entrepreneur, perpetual student, sociologist, social butterfly, Know-it-All

Hansen founded Priority Marketing in 1992, which is a full-service marketing agency. She is a very hands-on business owner who has really taken on the idea of agency. Her teams work is continually recognized as some of the best in the industry. She is also responsible for overseeing the process of all creative content, art, etc.

Karen Ryan, APR, CPRC – Public Relations Manager, Lee County Electric Cooperativespokesperson, moderator, accountant, script writer, artist, editor, photographer, customer service representative

Ryan has lots of experience with internal, external and crisis communications. LCEC is a diverse group of 400 employees, 1/3 of which are union employees. She continually faces the obstacle of liaising between many different types of people on a daily basis. She has a unique perspective on corporate PR from a non-profit standpoint and the challenges LCEC’s non-profit status poses.

Danielle Flood – Public Relations and Communications Manager, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization – event planner, tour guide, journalist, film producer, volunteer coordinator

Flood was hired by ECHO in 2007 after serving as a missionary in Niger for two years. ECHO helps people working overseas with the poor and Flood enjoys being passionate about her work. It’s important for her to strike the balance between working with the charity at the office and meeting the needs of the people overseas. She is responsible for all aspects of communications from graphic design to social media upkeep. She also works to educate the staff about their part in spreading their knowledge to the public, which is vitally important to a non-profit.

All of the panelists agree that no day is ever the same. It’s part of the beauty of communications. A day in the life of any of these women usually begins and ends in email. Being prompt in responding is important in all industries. The panelists also agree that it is important in many organizations to understand more than just the communications side of the organization you work for. You need to be able to share in your company’s vision while you communicate it to the outside world.

A dozen things the panel thinks everyone needs to know (3 from each panelist):

Tiffany Esposito

Networking – It’s very important to use all your resources to find a job right after coming out of school. The career resource center can be very helpful and was one of her biggest aids in the job search.

  1. Internships – Through FPRA, Esposito found several internships and has learned that the more people you know the easier it is to get your career started.
  2. Interviewing – The way you look as well as your resume and portfolio will speak volumes about you in an instant.  

Teri Hansen

  1.  Be solution driven – Believe there is always a solution. School is really to teach you how to think. More than what you learn in the books, you learn how to find the solutions and think in a way that will continue into your eventual career. At Priority, they call it “finding creative solutions.” One of the worst things you can do is to have a negative perspective. Don’t put everyone off by starting every sentence with a phrase like “well that’s going to be a problem.” Learn how to seek council from all available sources. Be willing to take and demonstrate initiative. Take ownership of the things you can and don’t let it fall to someone else. Hone your problem solving skills.
  2. Know how to juggle – It’s all about balance. When everything on your to-do list is high priority, learn how to work with all of those things at once and how to prioritize when no one else can tell you how. Easy way to prioritize: what ends with you or what will end if you don’t get it to the next person? For an agency, you need to be extremely flexible and learn as much as you can every day. Be a non-egotistical know-it-all.
  3. Celebrate diversity – Recognize that there’s value in every contribution. We all have different personalities and different strengths, and you need to learn to recognize the value in every person, not just the ones who are like you. Learn how to leverage the skills, strengths and talents of everyone around you.

Karen Ryan

  1. Agility – think on your feet, change direction quickly, and know a little about a lot. You need to be able to change direction quickly and react to the things around you. Having a plan C isn’t worth anything you can’t move to it when necessary.
  2. Passion – Get excited bout your company and others will too!
  3. Strategic Thinking – It’s important to remember that what you’re doing affects the bottom line. We need to keep that in mind and do what we can to achieve the end goal of the organization as a whole.

Danielle Flood

  1. Humble Spirit – Having a humble spirit builds trust. The willingness to learn from peers builds respect and trust in your and your position. Coming in and asking questions and trying to understand the world you’ll be in will begin to build that relationship you want in your company.
  2. Creativity – You have a lot to offer. Your ideas are new, fresh and need to be heard. Don’t be afraid to offer your thoughts or creative approaches. Carry them through.
  3. Initiative – You have to self-start. Start, finish, propose – do all of it without being told. It represents you well.

Question and Answer Session

In the luncheon, we learned about the BP situation. I’ve learned a little about crisis management, but in what ways do you go about respectfully clear up what someone said? How do you tell someone they were wrong without throwing them under the bus?

Ryan – recently one of the television outlets in the area decided to sensationalize things about her company. They had to find a creative way to communicate with the other stations and stay on the high road, creating a communications plan to spread the truth without directly starting a war with the other station. By maintaining, the public started turning against the media outlet.

Hansen – Sensational journalism is hard to combat. And if you try, you’ll end up in the mud with them. The high road is always the best choice. The two prevailing things in my mind are (1) form a plan and stick to it. (2) Truth prevails. This case has proven both of those items.

Ryan – in this situation, throughout the 30 days of stories, there was only one situation where it was true and wasn’t good for the customers. So we changed it and got rid of their ammunition. Always be thinking about the what-if scenarios. That strategic thinking will take you a long way. We were lucky and the worst-case scenario didn’t happen, but if it had we had a plan B and a plan C. You need to earn trust early on so when something bad happens, upper management will follow your recommendations. Always correct something that’s inaccurate.

How does social media play into all of your different types of PR?

Flood – we use social media to communicate our ministry’s goals and connect to the people who want ot know aobut it and build that loyalty for the future. We want to them to want to volunteer, go over seas, and eventually give their money to us.

Ryan – we’re limited in social media for a couple of reasons – the nature of our business and we haven’t really figured it all out yet. We want it to be for positive things, but we do find that sometimes people use it as an online complaint department. Any time we’ve found a complaint, we’ve been able to handle it. It’s nice being able to connect with the customer directly.

Hansen – we use social media as an integrative marketing program. By incorporating it into the rest of the plan, we are able to brand it as we would any other part of the plan. We also utilize blogging a lot. A lot of social media has multiple benefits – pulling in visitors and contributing to the branding of the client as a whole. We don’t do it randomly, we have a plan set out just as we do for media buying. We also supplement that with timely opportunities. Example – we represent a chocolatier and recently posted an article about chocolate written by a media outlet. One thing to remember is every client is different.

Esposito – the biggest use of social media for the chamber is getting information out about our events. We use it to pull in attendance more than anything.

I graduate in a year and am starting my new internship. How can I figure out exactly what type of PR I like best?

Ryan – You’re doing it the right way. You’ll have a much better idea after the agency, but you have to remember they’re all different. See if you can go to a different one an shadow. \

Don’t worry that you’re going to be stuck somewhere. Be agile. Your whole world can change in an instant, and you will be adapting throughout your career. Don’t worry so much about where you get placed, but know more

Hansen – when I started out of college, my degree was in business. I started at a TV station in the promotions department. It was very low paying, but it gave me tremendous opportunity. The value of that made it all worth it. Wherever you go, do as much as they will let you do. What it does is gives you exposure and experience with many different things. The more that you can and are willing to do, the better. If you came in to my company, you would have exposure to a lot of different things. You will get to learn everything and gain understanding in a way that will make you valuable to every prospective employer.

Ryan – Know what your values are. You may wind up somewhere that doesn’t have the same value system as you do. You need to be able to figure that out early and find what is right for you. You also might want to go for that big job, but don’t discount that non-profit job. You find the opportunity to do a lot of different things.

Hansen – If you’re going to work on the agency side, track every minute of your day. If you can’t imagine doing that, it may not be for you. We bill by hour and I don’t believe in billing a client for time we didn’t use on them. By doing this, we are being accountable to our clients and are able to tell them exactly what we spent time on for them. You really learn how to be efficient with your time.

Ryan – look at the environment that you’re going to be in as well. It’s hard to do what Danielle does. She’s all alone, so she’s completely self sufficient. If you’re ok with that, then great, but are you prepared to be a one-man show? What network do you have? Do you want to be on a team or alone?

Flood – I’ve had 3 bosses in 3 years through transitions. It’s very helpful to be open and learn to work with them.

Hansen – learn what your personality is. I do a personality profile on each new employee I have and try to use them to their strengths. Understand and be comfortable saying no if it doesn’t work with your profile. You need to be happy at work to be successful in the long run.

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